Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics
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"As Michael Wolraich argues in his sharp, streamlined new book, Unreasonable Men, it was 'the greatest period of political change in American history.'" -Washington Post, 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Republican Party stood at the brink of an internal civil war. After a devastating financial crisis, furious voters sent a new breed of politician to Washington. These young Republican firebrands, led by "Fighting Bob" La Follette of Wisconsin, vowed to overthrow the party leaders and purge Wall Street's corrupting influence from Washington. Their opponents called them "radicals," and "fanatics." They called themselves Progressives.
President Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of La Follette's confrontational methods. Fearful of splitting the party, he compromised with the conservative House Speaker, "Uncle Joe" Cannon, to pass modest reforms. But as La Follette's crusade gathered momentum, the country polarized, and the middle ground melted away. Three years after the end of his presidency, Roosevelt embraced La Follette's militant tactics and went to war against the Republican establishment, bringing him face to face with his handpicked successor, William Taft. Their epic battle shattered the Republican Party and permanently realigned the electorate, dividing the country into two camps: Progressive and Conservative.
Unreasonable Men takes us into the heart of the epic power struggle that created the progressive movement and defined modern American politics. Recounting the fateful clash between the pragmatic Roosevelt and the radical La Follette, Wolraich's riveting narrative reveals how a few Republican insurgents broke the conservative chokehold on Congress and initiated the greatest period of political change in America's history.
their new colleague as Spooner conducted La Follette down the aisle. After Vice President Fairbanks rapped his gavel to call the Senate into session, Spooner requested the floor. “Mr. La Follette, the senator-elect, is now in attendance,” he announced, “I ask that the oath of office be administered to him.” With that, he bowed gracefully to La Follette, La Follette bowed gracefully back, and the two short senators marched grandly down the aisle arm-in-arm to the vice president’s desk. Senator
again threatened to publish the report if the House didn’t pass the Senate bill. The meeting was over in half an hour.62 Roosevelt had more on his mind than the meat inspection bill. During his first term, the House had passed two variations of the pure food bill only to see them die in a Senate committee. Now that the Senate had finally passed pure food legislation of its own, the bill was stuck in a House committee. It was like some kind of shell game. The Chicago Daily Tribune warned that the
the Progressive Movement.48 6 THE SMILE The trouble with Taft is that if he were Pope he would think it necessary to appoint a few Protestant Cardinals. —Uncle Joe1 GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT, JUNE 1, 1908 By the age of 42, Lincoln Steffens had reached the pinnacle of his career. Wealthy and famous, he lived with his wife in a beautiful farmhouse on the Connecticut shore. He and his colleagues Ray Stannard Baker and Ida Tarbell had launched their own monthly, The American Magazine, which gave
Charlie rushed in with a new telegram. Nellie opened it and froze. “A large portrait of Roosevelt has been displayed on the platform and the convention has exploded,” she read. The room went silent. Taft drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair and whistled softly. Charlie returned a couple minutes later with another report. Nellie read it impassively, her face a mask. “A huge American flag with a Roosevelt portrait upon it is being carried about the hall; and the uproar continues with
Beveridge, which would prevent them from rewarding supporters with government jobs. Taft agreed and offered to contribute his share to the Iowa fund. He delivered Aldrich back to the Arlington and returned to the White House. “Well, Archie,” he said to his aide as they pulled in, “I had to descend into politics this afternoon. I believe in fighting the devil with fire.”29 The next day, Taft took another drive, this time to the Capitol, where he picked up the Speaker of the House. Uncle Joe,